Mindmap: finding an accountant
Everything you need to remember in the search for your dream tax guru.
Contacts: Friends, family and business contacts are
always your best first stop on the search express. Personal
recommendations tell you a lot more than marketing spiel.
Members: Look at listed members of professional
accountancy bodies for accredited firms. Try ICAEW, ICAS, ICAI, ACCA, CIMA, CIOT and IFA.
Online: There are a fair few accountant databases out
there to help you find firms in our area. Here are just a few: http://www.searchaccountant.co.uk, http://www.chartered-accountants.co.uk, http://www.accountants.co.uk
Trade press: You might not see loads of them lurking
in the classifieds, but where accountants choose to advertise gives
you a good indication of their sector and size.
Chartered certified: Always look for certification.
It means the firms you're considering have passed all the right
Local: Having your accountant within driving distance
isn't essential, but it will help. You never know when you might
suddenly realise 30 minutes before the VAT inspector's due to turn
up that you've misplaced last year's exports records. Plus,
proximity always makes a business relationship easier to
Shortlist: Draw up a list of three to six accountancy
firms you think could fit the bill, then meet each to get a feel
for whether your personality and styles match, and how much they're
likely to value your business.
What to ask
Small biz: You definitely want your accountant to
have experience with small businesses, preferably at the same stage
as you (such as startup, three years in, exit and so on). The
issues small businesses face at the various stages of their
life-spans are hugely different from larger companies or those who
are more mature.
Industry know-how: Your dream firm is going to have
extensive experience of your industry. But if you can't find one
who does know about importing red-back frogs from South Korea to
Manchester, or whatever niche you happen to be filling, make sure
they at least have a grasp of the wider sector you're in or have
handled the issues you expect to face.
Clients: You want them to have clients who are about
the same size as you. Bigger, and you'll be shoved to the back of
the pile as they focus on more important work. Much smaller, and
they might not have enough experience. Ask to see testimonials -
although they're obviously going to show you the best ones, you can
still get some insight from what past clients have said.
People: How many people are in their firm and who is
going to be dealing with your business? You don't want a junior or
to get passed from person to person.
Beyond tax: You want an accountant who can always
spot the sneaky ways to reduce costs and help advise you on your
business' next step towards glory, as well as sorting out the
administrative detail. Explain your current position, systems (if
any are in place yet), plans and requirements and compare your
shortlist's suggestions for improvement and advancement.
Pay per: Definitely ask about how you'll be billed
and figure out what's going to suit you best - to be charged per
piece of work, per year, per month, per hour, and so on. If you
think you're going to needs loads of support, a flat rate basis can
work well. If it's just occasional assistance, per hour could save
you cash - just check about how they bill for things such as
five-minute phone calls and whether they round up to the hour or
charge, for example, for every 15-minute block.
Trust: Absolutely crucial. We're talking about the
inner workings of your business here - the financial and
administrative blood that keeps it alive. If you're at all uneasy
for whatever reason, it'll always be playing on your mind.
Responsive: You might know accountancy methods
inside-out. You might not know what VAT even stands for. Whatever
your knowledge, you need someone who's patient, understands what
you're saying, and answers all your queries, all the time.
Clear: There's no point having someone explain how
you need to streamline your payroll for half an hour - and paying
for it - only to realise at the end you have no idea what they've
been on about. Be wary of jargon-users. If they can't explain
things on your terms, the relationship is never going to work.
Year 1: Once you've got your guys on board, hold a
meeting with them to discuss all your requirements over the next
year or so and what their plan of action will be. Then you'll both
know what's coming and how much work they'll be doing,
approximately, for the foreseeable future.
Honesty: Your accountant needs to know everything
about your business if you want them to do a good job. Don't fudge
or cover up anything - they're going to be looking at every last
detail, so you're better off getting any dirty laundry out there
before they dig it up themselves.
Letter:Once you've come to an agreement with your
accountant and told them you want to employ them, they'll pop a
letter in the post running through all their Ts&Cs.
Legal eagle: It's worth getting your solicitor to
glance over the contract they send you to double-check it. This can
just help put your mind at rest that if the relationship did sour
or you suddenly needed far more assistance than you'd originally
anticipated, you're not at risk of them charging you
Communicate: Establish who your main point of contact
will be and roughly how often you'll be in touch with each
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